TIM MCCULLOUGH, ASSISTANT EDITOR
Sadly, the Fantasy Baseball season came to a close several weeks ago (postseason daily games being the exception). Now that the final contenders for participation in our game’s annual World Series competition have been determined, projection calculations are underway for Fantasy Baseball 2014 and MLB organizations are beginning to rethink their rosters for next season. Best of all, Offseason Musings is back to bring you some perspective on the past season, a look ahead to next season and all kinds of tasty Fantasy goodness you just can’t get anywhere else. Let’s get started, shall we?
There are several players in the postseason tournaments whose baseball future, and Fantasy fortunes for next season, could be heavily influenced by their overall or timely hitting, pitching or defensive work in key situations during the postseason. Of course, such a small sample of a player’s season can never paint a complete picture of their overall capabilities, but it does give us a peek at their ability to work under intense scrutiny in games where the pressure to perform at the highest level is required of everyone for any team to be successful.
What these players do during the postseason can influence their organization’s management to reassess their role for next season, open the door to potentially positive contract offers or get them a one way ticket to free agency in the form of a release. So let’s take a look at a three players whose fortunes could be influenced by “what have you done for me lately in the postseason.”
Evan Gattis (C, OF), Atlanta Braves – Gattis’ rookie campaign at age 27 was one of the better stories of the 2013 season. An injury and late start to the season for Braves primary backstop, Brian McCann, led to an opportunity for Gattis, who responded with a dozen home runs and a .281 batting average over the first two months of the season. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Gattis, though, as a mid-season power outage along with a steep drop in batting average led to a slash in playing time. He was also sidelined with an oblique strain, which led to a 26-day trip to the DL. He finished the season at .243/.291/.480 with 21 HRs, 65 RBI and 44 runs scored, which is good enough to place him among the Top 12 Fantasy catchers.
Gattis isn’t a patient hitter, as his 5.5 percent walk rate makes clear, and there were times during the season when his strikeout rate approached 25 percent, though it settled in at 21.2 percent for the season. He’s aggressive at the plate (55.6 percent Swing rate) and tends to chase bad pitches (42.1 percent O-swing), but he makes good contact (77.9 percent Contact rate) and has solid power skills (.237 Isolated Power). If the Braves allow Brian McCann to leave via free agency, Gattis could be their primary starting catcher.
Given his postseason performance in the Braves losing effort against the Dodgers, there is a good chance the team decides to let McCann walk. After all, Gattis held down the cleanup spot in the lineup, batting .357 (5 for 14) with three runs scored and a RBI. It’s also worth noting that during the final month of the regular season, Gattis contributed six home runs, 18 RBI and a .255 average, helping to prop up a faltering offense and keep the team’s postseason dreams alive. Just how the Braves handle McCann during the offseason will determine Gattis’ Fantasy value in 2014. If they re-sign McCann, all bets are off for Gattis. But if they allow McCann to leave, Gattis could be a cheap source of power at the catcher position next season.
Michael Wacha has emerged as a second ace on the Cardinals staff. Photo Credit: Eric Fischer
Michael Wacha (SP), St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals starting rotation suffered numerous injuries this season, but the team had a seemingly endless stream of young arms to tap, among them Michael Wacha, a 22-year-old with less than 100 innings pitched in the minors. He was used in relief at first, but when it became apparent that a steady starter was needed, Wacha was moved into the rotation, where he made nine starts en route to a record of 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 9.05 K/9 strikeout rate. Originally projected to be a mid-rotation starter, Wacha has emerged as the second ace of the staff behind Adam Wainwright.
During the postseason, Wacha has been nothing short of brilliant. In three starts he’s gone 21 innings and given up just one earned run for an ERA of 0.43 with a 0.57 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and just four walks. He was named the National League Championship Series MVP by his teammates for dominating the Dodgers and beating Clayton Kershaw twice, including the series clinching Game 6.
Entering 2014, Wacha could potentially be a Top 25 Fantasy pitcher due to his excellent strikeout rates and potentially low ratio stats. While he certainly appears to be a very good young pitcher, some caution is warranted in overvaluing him. He will have very limited experience at the Major league level, and he will certainly be subject to the ups and downs that are expected of any young pitcher. There is no doubt that he will be worth an investment on draft day, but valuing him like an ace would be a mistake. Don’t overpay for Wacha next spring, but if you can get him at a nominal auction price or draft him in the middle rounds (Round 12-18), you just may have a real bargain on your hands. The potential for Fantasy gold is definitely there.
Koji Uehara (RP), Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox signed Uehara to a one-year deal last winter to provide them some stability in the seventh and/or eighth innings, a stepping stone to their new closer, Joel Hanrahan. All that changed when Hanrahan, and then his replacement, Andrew Bailey, were both lost to injuries for the balance of the season. At first, the Sox went with Junichi Tazawa in the closer’s role, but when it became apparent that he was better suited to setup work, the team decided that Uehara deserved a chance. Despite putting up impressive seasons with the Orioles and then the Texas Rangers, Uehara was never considered for ninth inning duties by either team. Indeed, the Red Sox probably never envisioned putting Uehara in that role either. Fortunately, circumstances left them little choice but to take their chances with the 38-year-old Japanese hurler with the high-80s fastball and a dazzling array of offspeed offerings that left hitters baffled, dazed and confused.
Uehara took over the job for good on June 28th, and on June 30th he allowed a run to score, essentially notching his first blown save, but also gaining his first win as the team’s closer. Amazingly, he would not allow another run to score until September 17th, a span of 31 appearances, a total of 33.2 innings pitched during which he would strike out 45 while walking just two; batter hit a paltry .074 against him during his incredible run. All told, he would finish the season with 21 saves, a record of 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP. He struck out a total of 102 batters in 74.1 innings for a strikeout rate of 12.6 K/9 IP. He would allow just 11 walks (two intentional) all season and batters hit a pathetic .130 off him.
As if that weren’t enough, Uehara has turned it up a notch in the postseason. He’s appeared in eight postseason games so far, notching a record of 1-1 with five saves, a 1.00 ERA with a 0.56 WHIP and 13 strikeouts with zero walks. He’s allowed one run on five hits; the run coming on a golf-shot, walk-off homer by Jose Lobaton in the Division Playoff series with Tampa. He’s been called upon by Red Sox manager John Farrell to get as many as five outs in high-leverage situations and except for that one mistake (a lucky hit really) to Lobaton, he’s answered every call with near perfection. His teammates voted him the American League Championship series MVP, and deservedly so.
Overall, Uehara has gone from bullpen spare part (signed on the cheap) to key closer in very short order, and done so while pitching almost perfectly all through the regular season and well into the postseason with only the World Series left to play. He’s already gained status as a Top 10 closer entering the 2014 season, and continued stellar play in the World Series will only serve to set that status in stone. He is the only 38-year-old closer not named Mariano Rivera to enjoy such lofty status, and at this point even failure in the World Series isn’t likely to shake that value lower.
Xander Bogaerts – The Red Sox have a special player on their hands; there is no doubt about that. He’s supplanted Wil Middlebrooks (again) as the starting third baseman and will enter 2014 as the odds-on favorite to be the starting shortstop. His postseason play has been eye-opening and he will likely be a coveted SS in Fantasy drafts next year, almost guaranteed to see his Fantasy value soar to lofty heights.
Justin Verlander – He was very human (un-Verlander-like) this season, with a record of 13-12 and whispers that the workload (1760 IP since 2006 including this season) was getting to him. His postseason numbers were more like those we’re accustomed to seeing from him, so Fantasy players will likely forgive his unusually poor season and value him almost as highly as ever in 2014. Still, he is likely to drop out of first round consideration and fall somewhere in the late second or early third round overall.
Shelby Miller – Like Michael Wacha, Kelly is having a strong postseason run. The difference is that Miller is coming off an exceptional rookie season for which he will likely be considered for Rookie of the Year honors. Continued success in the postseason can only help his already lofty status and value heading into 2014.
Trevor Rosenthal – Rosenthal has taken over as the Cardinals closer in the postseason, already saving two games and pitching five scoreless innings in which he’s allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out seven. He’s very likely to be the Cardinals closer next season unless the organization decides to stretch him out and have him start.
Mike Napoli – King Beardo is tearing the cover off the ball when he isn’t striking out. Five of his eight hits have been for extra bases, and he has five runs scored along with three RBI. He’s also hit two key home runs that helped the team win two postseason games. He is playing for his next contract, since he isn’t signed for next season…yet. If he continues to hit well in the postseason, he could be among the Top 15 or 20 at first base next season.